May 17, 2011

Tuesdays with Corey: Eight Losers in the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Quarterfinals

by Corey McLaughlin |

Lee Coppersmith, shown here getting a shot off against Hofstra in a first-round win Saturday, was one of several Johns Hopkins players who stepped up their games following a controversial overtime loss March 19 at Syracuse which they appeared to have won.

Losing isn't fun. But to paraphrase the quote attributed to inspirational Christian pastor Charles Swindoll (as well as former Notre Dame football coach and past US Lacrosse National Convention keynote speaker Lou Holtz), life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.

The eight teams in the NCAA men's Division I quarterfinals all have something in common: They've lost this season, and it was bad at the time. The key was they reacted positively.

Syracuse (15-1)

The Orange's only loss of the season came at the hands of Cornell at the Carrier Dome April 12. There were built-in excuses the team could have used as reasoning for the defeat: shutdown close defenseman John Lade left the game in the first quarter because of a nagging ankle injury. That left Brian Megill to cover Rob Pannell until Megill left the game in the second half with a bump on his head. Pannell finished with three goals and three assists.

Asked about the injuries a few days later, goaltender John Galloway sidestepped using them as excuses and instead pinned the loss on the team as a whole.

"It had nothing to do with injuries," Galloway said. "It had to do with the way Cornell came out and played against us, and it had to do with the way that we came out and played. We feel very confident in the guys that were able to come in and play. That's no excuse for our team. Things are going to change around here."

Maryland (11-4)

If Joe Cummings' shot in overtime against Johns Hopkins April 16 was one more inch to the right, the Terps would have won that game and probably wouldn't have been unseeded in this tournament. But alas, Cummings hit the inside of the pipe to Pierce Bassett's right and Kyle Wharton put the game away on Hopkins' next possession.

Afterward, head coach John Tillman, a dejected Cummings and senior Ryan Young addressed reporters.

"If that team is the third-best team in the country, we're an inch away from being No. 3 ourselves," Tillman said.

"That's sometimes how it happens," Cummings said, "but we're going to respond and we're going to come back as a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We're a family. We're going to move on and keep going."

The next night, Young's mother, Maria, passed away after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. The Terps players, fans and staff have rallied around Young, who is their emotional leader, and who wants to win badly. You can see that in his celebration after every goal he's scored since, fist-pumping like a vintage Tiger Woods.

Notre Dame (11-2)

Their most notable defeat may not have been this year, but last season. The most difficult losses are when you never have a chance to win, and that was the case for Notre Dame in last year's national championship game, when Duke's C.J. Costabile won the opening faceoff of overtime and scored on goaltender Scott Rodgers.

Rodgers is gone now, but a core of players from that team returned this year as seniors, Zach Brenneman, David Earl and Andrew Irving among them. The Irish started the season on a 10-game win streak before losing to Syracuse and North Carolina. They've since rebounded and beat Penn in first round Saturday. But Penn itself was reeling, having entered the tournament with an 8-6 record and also having lost two straight.

Duke (13-5)

Duke lost to Penn, 7-3, in late February to fall to 1-2, and it was hard not to think that this particular Blue Devils team was going to have a tough road to hoe without Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani. Duke fell in the polls to very un-Duke-like depths, but it responded then next week with an overtime win against Maryland. Freshman Jordan Wolf had a hat trick, including the game-winner, in his first game starting on attack after playing midfield the first three games.

Duke coach John Danowski later admitted it was a mistake to try to play Wolf, a natural attackman, in the midfield to start the season. Attackman Zach Howell and freshman Christian Walsh have since benefitted, as has the offense in general. Duke has averaged 13.5 goals per game in its last 15 games.

Johns Hopkins (13-2)

"If that team is the third-best team in the country, we're an inch away from being No. 3 ourselves."

Maryland coach John Tillman after an April 16 overtime loss to Hopkins

While Johns Hopkins fans were busy being angry, and some conspiracy theorizing, about Kyle Wharton's non-goal in overtime against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome March 19, players walked into the visiting locker room clearly frustrated. But once inside, players and coaches wrapped their heads around what just happened on the field. They played the No. 1 team in the country into overtime, and very well could have or should have won the game if Wharton was not called for a dive into the crease. It was a much different feeling than after a 8-3 loss at home to Princeton three games earlier when coach Dave Pietramala said if you asked him then, he would have said, "What's going on here?" After the Syracuse loss, they had some confidence.

"The turning point for us with this team was Syracuse," Pietramala said Saturday after the Blue Jays beat Hofstra to advance to the quarterfinals. "When we walked into the game saying this game would define us. We walked out of the game after losing, and said how we handle that game was going to define us. The way our seniors have handled that has defined this team."

"That's the changing point. It was walking in the locker room after the Syracuse game. Maybe these guys can tell you different," Pietramala said, sitting next to Matt Dolente, Kyle Wharton and Pierce Bassett. But then all nodded their heads in agreement. "They did what we asked them to do and we had every opportunity to win the game, and we didn't. We walked in and said, 'We're proud of you. We did everything you asked us to do. You keep doing this and handle this, we're going to be fine.'"

Denver (14-2)

The first turning point of the Pioneers' season came March 12 at home in front of a sold-out crowd against Notre Dame. Even without an injured Zach Brenneman (ribs), the Irish squeaked out a 10-9 victory, but the close game served noticed that Denver had more potential than many realized.

"The only thing that was bad about Saturday night was [Notre Dame] ended up with more goals than us," Tierney said four days later, when the Pioneers traveled east to beat Loyola, 12-8, to begin its current 11-game winning streak.

Virginia (10-5)

This is the one team in the quarterfinals that may be coming into its own right now. There's no clear defeat that rallied them, because the Cavaliers in fact lost four of their last six games in the regular season. You can point to the removal of Shamel Bratton and the suspension of Rhamel Bratton as coinciding with what Virginia coach Dom Starsia called the team's most complete game of the season in an 11-2 thumping of Penn to end the regular season.

Also helping is that Tewaraton Award finalist Steele Stanwick, hampered by foot and calf injuries dating to the time before Virginia's loss to Johns Hopkins March 26, is now closer to 100 percent healthy. He took over in the final minutes of the Cavs' overtime win against Bucknell in the first round Sunday.

Cornell (14-2)

The Big Red's last loss was to Virginia at the Face-Off Classic in Baltimore March 12. Afterward first-year head coach Ben DeLuca pointed to self-inflicted wounds as the reason for the defeat.

The Big Red led 5-4 at half, but lost 11-9 in part because they drew a total of six second-half penalties that resulted in two Virginia extra-man goals.

"We could play with anybody in the country," Tewaaraton Award finalist Rob Pannell said when asked what the game meant in the greater scheme of the season. "A couple of things didn't go our way today. We made a couple of mistakes in the second half. The game could have very well went a different way. On any given day, we can beat anybody in the country... It shows that when we're at full strength and everybody is on the same page, we can be the team that we want to be."

The game was also the debut of David Lau on attack. He moved from the midfield upon his return from a hamstring injury and has 28 goals and 18 assists this season. He and Pannell and the rest of the offense have since developed chemistry.

"Pairing him up with Rob is a move that we felt long-term is going to benefit us," DeLuca said at the time. "Having another playmaker down on attack, who can shoot and distribute the ball and handle... He's a guy who can break down a defense and find the seams. We thought we needed someone to carry against pressure."

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